King Crimson (courtesy of Sid Smith/DGM)

King Crimson

Thirty-three years ago, King Crimson played in Oxford, Guildford, Cromer, Dunstable and Poole. You would have to go back to 1972 to find the band performing in cities such as Cardiff, Brighton and Birmingham.

Almost unbelievably, King Crimson have now re-emerged for their first U.K. tour since 1982. Even more astonishingly the set list is built around early ’70s repertoire pieces that the band have all but ignored since dissolving in 1974. Some of it has not been heard on a U.K. stage since 1969 and material such as Starless has never performed in the U.K. at all. Couple this with the fact that the ubiquitous Robert Fripp has assembled a 7-man line-up that flips the traditional rock band on its head with three drummers acting as the frontline, two guitars, bass and saxophone/flute at the back and this is certainly an event worthy of a feature. It would be rude not to…

As is common KC practice, no photography was allowed of the band in action, requested politely and often by both band and venue, so all the images in this article come from tour rehearsals in August with a great debt of thanks due to Sid Smith / DGM.

TPA are hoping to cover several of the dates so, without further prevarication, let’s begin with…

St. David’s Hall, Cardiff

3rd September 2015

Mel Allen’s Review

The anticipation for tonight’s gig for me was immense, the last time I visited the court of King Crimson was in July 2000 at Shepherds Bush Empire in London on the Construkction of Light tour. That night I was blown away with the sheer intensity and raw power of their performance, so to be able to see them in a city down the road from my home was unbelievable. No long journey this time.

After a pre-gig drink and chat about what was to come we made our way into the auditorium to take our seats in Row G of the stalls. There appeared to be a heightened sense of expectation throughout the audience. Before us the stage with the three drum kits set up across the front, a raised platform behind for the other four members. To the right as we looked at the stage was Robert Fripp’s gear and I knew I would be able to watch the master at work throughout as he was now being lit properly, unlike in 2000. I just felt that this was going to be good.

Just before the start various members of the band made a recorded announcement, asking the audience to not use mobile phones, ipads or recording devices, and to experience the evening using our eyes and ears. A short time later they took the stage, all looking very smart and dapper, kudos to Bill Rifkin who played a powerful set at his drum kit without removing his jacket… that’s rock ‘n’ roll the KC way folks!

What followed was one of the most astonishing and masterful performances that I have ever been privileged to witness. They reinterpreted early career songs in such a way that they felt so fresh, proving, I guess, how timeless and forward looking this music is. For me the highlights of an excellent night must be the wonderful Epitaph and an amazing, controlled and powerful Starless, quite possibly the best version I have heard.

The three drummer line-up worked well, being both powerful and intricate; it was never too cluttered or busy. Indeed the performances from all of the band were at the top of their game; Levin’s powerful bass, Jakko’s singing which was top quality on Starless, Collin’s contributions adding depth and textures. Lastly Mr Robert Fripp, whose playing was precise, intricate, powerful showing a great control of his art.

After this gig I was left almost speechless, which in turn has led to me finding it difficult to express myself and to do my part of this review justice. Is it enough to say then that if they had played a second night in Cardiff I would certainly have been there?

King Crimson in reheasal - courtesy Sid Smith/DGM

Leo Trimming’s review

– A Krim Tourist’s Thoughts on King Crimson Live…

When I heard that Progressive Rock legends King Crimson were touring the U.K. I had mixed feelings. I loved debut album In the Court of the Crimson King, but I have to confess what little I have heard of later material left me perplexed and disappointed. I was also unfortunate early on that I had a traumatic experience of hearing an obscure live recording, which I had no choice but to mentally file under ‘Unlistenable B*ll*cks’. This did leave a long-lasting scar of aversion in me for King Crimson.

However, all was not lost as I enjoyed some of their Discipline era incarnation. Over the years other fans had insisted I was ‘missing something’. Therefore, when Mr Fripp decided to tour again I felt I had to see them in the flesh to see if I could finally ‘get it’. After all this was a bona fide ‘LEGENDARY BAND’. I was pointed in the direction of albums Red and Lark’s Tongue in Aspic in the hope these would cure me of my colour blindness when it came to all things Crimson. Parts of those albums I could sort of see were interesting… but still no ‘click’ of understanding or love for the band. In the lead up to the gig I didn’t bother listening to In the Court of the Crimson King because I already knew it so well and I knew they would never play that one as it was far too ‘proggy’ (and accessible!)…

Come the day of the gig I was in trepidation – I was about to see rock legends, and I felt like an untrained novice gate-crashing a religious ceremony. I had done some homework, and over a lunchtime pint I started to ‘get’ the much lauded classic Starless. Perhaps all was not yet lost!

I met with a few more learned Crimson fans, and had to stand back and don a bib as they frothed profusely at the mouth in fevered anticipation for the ‘Second Coming of the Prog Lord’… or something like that. We entered the hallowed hall, and it was clear this would be no ordinary gig as I sat in the second row confronted by three sets of drums… yes, THREE sets of drums! This was a band which clearly took its percussion very seriously OR they had held an audition for a new drummer and Gavin Harrison, Bill Rieflin and Pat Mastelotto all finished equal in a three way tie? Whatever, this was going to certainly be different.

The band walked on, largely in formal gear, and not one word was spoken – indeed, not one word was spoken to the audience all evening. This felt like some sort of orchestral performance. The ‘congregation’ (as this was clearly a religious experience for many attending) sat down and the band launched into Lark’s Tongue in Aspic – whoopee! – my ‘homework’ had paid off as I actually knew this one! The massed ranks of percussion came in handy for this one with all sorts of sounds and rhythms being produced, including a bat wing shaped gong. They were clearly all very good at banging things and no wonder it was a tie in their audition, I thought to myself. This song was absolutely astounding as an introduction, and I knew then ‘I’m not in Kansas (or Cardiff) anymore, Toto’ – this was a band which was going to take us off into another musical dimension.

After Lark’s Tongues… we moved into very unfamiliar territory for me and my limited homework was exposed, although I think they did one about a ‘Nightmare’ from Red, which seemed appropriate as this was very scary stuff. I was so far out of my comfort zone I needed a map and a load of tranquilizers. I could only sit there and marvel at the dexterity and marvellous interplay between the drummers, overseen like some sort of Musical Bank Manager by Robert Fripp in a neat suit, sat on a stool weaving magic with his guitar in front of a massive computer thing. I did recognize the excellent Tony Levin on bass in ‘Ming the Merciless’ guise from his days with Peter Gabriel, and there was a fine guitarist in Jakko Jakszyk, who could also sing very well when needed – although that was not all that often in the first half.

Some more songs I had never heard or recognized followed and I continued to marvel at the skill I was witnessing in a curious detachment I was not used to at gigs. This felt like some sort of dry analytical exercise for myself, which is a different experience for me in concert. I reached the oasis of another song I actually recognized when they played Easy Money, which seemed a considerable improvement on the album version. We set off into the musical desert of ignorance for me again on the next track, but then a wondrous moment occurred when the distinctive tones of Epitaph from In the Court of the Crimson King chimed out – I was delighted. I never thought they would delve into that classic album, especially that track. Simply Wonderful.

The second half of the concert was more enjoyable for me – maybe I was just becoming attuned to this strange musical Universe? The main show climaxed with a stunning and mesmerising performances of Red and Starless. One mention must go to the lighting guy. Basically he had ONE job to do – change the lights to ‘Red’ for these numbers, which was the ONLY change in lighting all night. Woe betide him if he got that bit wrong – ‘You had one job to do’ springs to mind. However, such a minimal light change had an extraordinary effect – sometimes less really is more, and the real spectacle was happening on stage with fantastic musicianship by the band.

The band trooped off like it was the end of school assembly with Fripp the headmaster last off, but the students (as this was also an event to ‘study’ evidently) wanted more and gave a rapturous response. They soon returned and my head almost fell off when they then launched into the majesty of In the Court of the Crimson King. One song from that album was an unexpected treat for a ‘Krim tourist’ like me, but a second classic was stunning – ‘Ambassador Fripp, you are spoiling us!’ More and better was to come as the three drummers launched into a thunderous but incredibly well coordinated battery of percussive pyrotechnics, topped off with a breath-taking drum solo by Gavin Harrison which drew applause from his fellow drummers and even a smile from Robert Fripp. They launched into a blistering and extended performance of yet another debut album 100% diamond classic, 21st Century Schizoid Man. Mel Collins on saxophone was in particularly frenzied mood during this brilliant song… and then it all ended with the congregation in tumult, almost prostrate before their Prog Gods in adoration… even me!

Conclusions? This was an incredible concert played with great precision and passion, but for me this felt like very cerebral music for the head rather than something for my heart – but then again I do not possess that life-long emotional ‘fan’ connection so evident in so many Krim worshippers that night.

Would I go again? Maybe not (especially at those prices!) but I am very glad to have seen such legends in awesome action, and doing classics from perhaps THE FIRST ever Prog album.

Jez Rowden’s review

I have had very few opportunities to see the mighty King Crimson during the 30 years since I was introduced to them. The first of these in London in 1996 was curtailed at the last minute by a family crisis, the unused ticket a perpetual reminder that fills me with despair every time I see it – the Double Trio at the height of their powers? Gah!! Luckily I got to see the Quartet of Terror dismantle Shepherd’s Bush Empire in 2000, reducing the building, and many of those lucky enough to be present, to metaphorical rubble – the best gig I’ve ever seen, no question – so a gig in Cardiff, just down the road from my place of work, had me squealing with unseemly delight. Tickets duly purchased, the waiting began but the time has at last arrived.

Still unsure of exactly what to expect from this 14-armed Beast of Krimness we arrived at the hall. Oddly, most of the audience is male and “of a certain age”. Well, who’d have thunk it?! Seats are taken as eerie Soundscaping floats around us. An announcement:-

…and then they appear, suited and booted, ready to show us what we’ve been missing on this side of The Pond since the last time the band trod European boards many moons ago.

But this is a very different KC. The frontline trio of drummers in an arc, Collins, Levin, Jakszyk and Fripp on risers behind. Fripp reaches his stool, takes off his jacket and puts on his glasses, adjusts the settings on his Lunar Module and straps on his guitar. Adds headphones … and waits.

We wait too. You can hear the expectation crackling.

A nod from Fripp, a recording of his familiar count in from Islands – “One, two, three; two, two, three…”.

The intro to Larks Tongues in Aspic, Part One and all hell breaks loose with a fusilade of drums. Hang on to your seats, this is going to be a hell of a ride! If you thought that the Live At The Orpheum release from earlier this year was a little, well, subdued, then this is what it should have sounded like!

A couple of minutes in and I notice that an unexpected tear is rolling down my face. This is just breathtaking stuff. They’ve practised hard and are here to do business. I can’t imagine how much effort it took for each of the players to learn where to place themselves amongst their Krim colleagues within these classic repertoire pieces that have been largely ignored live for over 40 years. They have, however, managed it with some style and throughout the near 2 and a half hour set the structuring and arrangement was exemplary with the sound being pitched at just the right level for maximum power whilst ensuring that tiny subtleties could also be heard. Very occasionally the mass of drums shrouded the rest but that was the exception rather than the rule in what was a thoroughly fascinating experience.

Robert Fripp in rehearsal - courtesy Sid Smith/DGM

In Fripp’s words, “All the music is new, whenever it was written”, and so it is. All of these pieces, so ingrained in my soul, sounding fresh and new, spiced up with additional and alternative parts, re-worked, re-tooled, re-imagined. Just wonderful. Why Fripp has chosen to return to these classic KC pieces of old now having so vehemently avoided them for so long is anyone’s guess, but thank God he has. And thank God too that he has been able to assemble such a group of musicians to present it. Between them they cover almost the whole history of King Crimson and in doing so Fripp has found a way to make what could be a definitive statement, successfully bringing together all of the disparate KC groupings in one band that is capable of doing them all justice. With tracks from four of the first five albums and most of Red, no ’80s stuff and only The ConstruKCtion of Light from the later releases, it was as if Fripp’s almost Stalinist reinvention of King Crimson in 1974 where a forward-looking scorched earth policy saw them virtually ignore earlier works had been turned around on itself, now acting as a virtual full stop. But there is a future, fresh pieces emerging and finding a place in the set to enthral old listeners anew.

KC music is different to anything else. Just accept it. It’s an alternative way of doing things that works to its own rules and the live space is where it all comes together. I can’t imagine what it must be like to come into something like this almost cold, as Leo has, but you need to experience King Crimson live, the choices and interactions as they happen.

The performances from everyone on the stage were spot on. Everything Mel Collins played had purpose and brought something new, fantastic to see him play for the first time. Tony Levin adds a definite groove to anything he plays and in this band he covers a lot of ground from Chapman Stick to upright bass – bowed and plucked – and bass guitar, a majestic player of immense stature. Jakko Jakszyk’s guitar work was excellent, often taking the leads from Fripp, and his vocals were just magical.

The frontline are the raison d’etre of this KC8 line-up and work together as a real team, Gavin Harrison seeming to wear the musical directors hat and adding the cues. He got his own solo during 21st Century Schizoid Man which almost defied belief, Pat Mastelotto leading the applause that followed. Pat himself is a force of nature behind his kit and the deft touches and percussive additions underlined the attention to detail imbued into this music, his role now sometimes aligned with that of Jamie Muir from the 1972 band. Between them Bill Rieflin worked the grooves and added percussion, his style very different to the other two, all three complementing each other beautifully. Bill also supplied the Mellotron parts which brought many of the older pieces to life. Additional gamelan sections were just beautiful and reminded of how well that technique has worked in various eras of the band. As a trio the drummers strive both in unison and at odds with one other, as the music demands, and I never thought they could really get this setup to work. They have.

And then there’s Robert Fripp. Whenever I’ve seen him play previously I just couldn’t take my eyes off him, the minimalist, precise movements almost hypnotic, but here he was producing sounds of cathartic anger and otherworldly uniqueness as the Crimson King requires. The guitarist’s guitarist, Fripp seems to be “including” himself more than for many years, almost impervious to emotion but cracking a small smile now and again. There’s no real reason for him to be doing this at the age of 69, taking on the immense demands inherent in taking this band somewhere new once again, but here he is, the only things moving his eyes and his hands. From being shrouded in the shadows in 2000, he has emerged and is clearly enjoying himself within the music he has created and to finally see him play some of these things – Epitaph, Sailor’s Tale, Schizoid Man, The Court of the Crimson King, Starless – was a dream that I never believed could come true. The dexterity in his playing, the sustain, the wonderful choices. A complete honour to watch such an enigmatic master craftsman and unique talent at work. At the end the house lights were put on so the band could connect with the audience. Fripp stood at his position and slowly scanned every part of the hall as the storm of applause washed over the band, as if thanking everyone individually for their attention. No emotion, no acknowledgement, simply an almost one-to-one thank you and a look of quiet satisfaction.

And then they were gone.

No interaction during the set, no words from the stage, no movement to speak of. Nothing more than a captivating performance that completely absorbed me from start to finish.

All afternoon I’d been suffering the beginnings of a migraine which got worse immediately before the show. By the end I was completely cured and bouncing up and down like an idiot, fully energised and ready to go again. Proof positive that King Crimson is a miraculous cure-all that should be available on prescription. Much better than paracetamol!

God bless you Mr Fripp for the cure and also for your vision and fortitude in allowing this miraculous event to happen.

King Crimson in rehearsal - courtesy Sid Smith/DGM

Cardiff Setlist
Larks Tongues in Aspic, Part I
Pictures of a City
Suitable Grounds for the Blues
One More Red Nightmare
Radical Action (To Unseat The Hold Of Monkey Mind)
Hell Hounds of Krim
Easy Money
The ConstruKCtion of Light
Banshee Legs Bell Hassle
The Letters
Sailor’s Tale

~ Encore:-
Devil Dogs Of Tessellation Row
In the Court of the Crimson King
21st Century Schizoid Man

Tony Levin’s photos from Cardiff can be found at his Road Diary.

Robert Fripp – Guitar
Tony Levin – Bass, Chapman Stick, Backing Vocals
Pat Mastelotto – Drums, Percussion
Mel Collins – Saxophone, Flute
Gavin Harrison – Drums, Percussion
Jakko Jakszyk – Guitar, Vocals, Flute
Bill Rieflin – Drums, Percussion

King Crimson – Website | Facebook
Robert Fripp – Website | Facebook
Tony Levin – Website | Facebook
Pat Mastelotto – Website | Facebook
Gavin Harrison – Website | Facebook
Jakko Jakszyk – Website | Facebook